The U.S. Energy Department has raised its expectations for fuel prices, according to the latest Short-Term Energy Outlook issued on Tuesday.
Diesel retail prices, which averaged $3.83 per gallon in 2014, are projected to fall to an average of $2.89 per gallon this year, 5 cents higher than in last month’s forecast. It’s expected to increase to $3.25 per gallon in 2016, 2 cents more than its previous projection.
Once the current quarter is over, diesel is expected to have averaged $2.93, falling even lower for a second quarter average of $2.82, and bottoming out in the third quarter at $2.81. In the fourth quarter of 2015, the average is expected to increase to $3 per gallon. These prices compare to a current DOE average this week of $2.944, it’s fifth straight weekly increase since hitting a five-year low last month.
The DOE expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices, which averaged $3.36 per gallon in 2014, to average $2.39 per gallon in 2015, an increase of 5 cents from last month’s forecast, and increasing to $2.73 in 2016. This week it averaged $2.487, down $1.025 from a year ago.
The average household is expected to spend $710 less for gasoline in 2015 compared with last year because of lower prices, according to the department.
The expected increases in fuel prices is due mainly to the forecast calling for the price spread between the two major types of crude to be more than twice what it was last month’s report.
The department is forecasting crude prices to move slightly from what it project last month, $52.15 per barrel this year for West Texas Intermediate Crude, nearly $3 lower than compared to last month’s forecast, followed by $70 next year, $1 less than the previous projection. In contrast, Brent Crude prices are projected to hit $59.49 per barrel this year, up nearly $2 from February’s forecast and $75 in 2016, unchanged from a month ago.
The DOE concedes there is “very high uncertainty” in its oil price outlook. On Tuesday, WTI crude settled at $48.29 per barrel while Brent crude was at $58.39, still down about 50% from last year's peak levels. Prices have only slightly recovered this year, but have been stuck in a narrow range lately
One likely cause of this uncertainty is the expectation the U.S. will continue with high domestic crude oil production levels that will be extremely close to the record of 9.6 million barrels per day hit in 1970, while OPEC crude production is expected to remain nearly unchanged this year and only falling a bit in 2016. Add to this U.S. crude stockpiles are near their highest levels on record, reinforcing beliefs by many analysts that it will be sometime before both oil and fuel prices will return to high levels seen last year.